‘Thunder Learns to Read:’ Education students use new tools to teach reading

‘Thunder Learns to Read:’ Education students use new tools to teach reading

R eading is a skill known as a building block of life and fundamental to society. 

Teachers work hard to help children read early in their education, but many students face obstacles in their learning. It helps when they receive extra guidance and understand that anyone can face similar challenges with reading—even a famous furry friend. 

Georgia College junior education majors spent several sessions during their spring semester working on-site at Lakeview Academy in Baldwin County giving students additional guidance and encouragement as they honed their reading skills.  

Katherine Funke works with a student.
Katherine Funke works with a student.

 “We are actually putting it into practice the different tips and skills that we've learned through our classes,” said early childhood education major Erin Malone. “I think it helped that we were with the students only in the spring because we had a toolbox of all the things that we needed to know be a lot more impactful.”

As part of their college course Literacy Assessment and Instruction: Dyslexia and Diverse Reading Profiles, teaching candidates tutored Kindergarten through second-grade students (K-2). 

“This is the first time we've been one-on-one or in pairs with students to see where they are with their reading and use the assessments that we've been learning in class,” said early childhood education major Katherine Funke. 

The course is part of pilot program in the John H. Lounsbury College of Education, which aims to better prepare teacher candidates for reading education. 

Dr. Linda Bradley prepares her students for tutoring sessions.
Dr. Linda Bradley prepares her students for tutoring sessions.

“In the state in general, there was a bit of a concern that new teachers were coming out not really ready to teach all of the fundamental components of reading,” said Dr. Linda Bradley, professor of literacy education. “There's been a state push to pay attention to those fundamentals.”

Historically known as a leader in teacher education in Georgia, the College of Education joined an effort to assess and rework their literacy courses. The university is one of 14 University System of Georgia (USG) Educator Preparation Programs participating in a pilot project to plan and implement projects to improve teacher candidate impact upon K-12 student learning in literacy and mathematics. 

“We revised our literacy coursework for early childhood and for special education as a part of a pilot in the state,” said Bradley. “We developed a three-course restructured plan that emphasizes hands-on implementation with students in schools. Spring 2021 is the first offering of this course linking assessment and interventions on-site with groups of K-2 students.”

That course brought college students this semester to Lakeview for eight sessions of hands-on tutoring. Overcoming the challenges of the pandemic and working with school and county leadership, Bradley connected her students with 106 younger children to work on the fundamentals of reading. 

In honor of their hard work and the end of the school year, the children received a special celebration during their last scheduled tutoring session. A book of their very own to take home written by Bradley and featuring Georgia College’s mascot Thunder the Bobcat. 

“It’s a treat for every child who's come to tutoring this spring,” said Bradley. “On their last day of tutoring, we celebrated each K-2 student, gave them a copy of the book and then read it together as a group.”

The idea for the children’s book “Thunder Learns to Read” came to Bradley several years ago. She teamed up with a professional illustrator Min McGlaughn for the project. In the book, the bobcat decides he wants to learn to read but faces a few challenges along the way. 

McGlaughn jumped at the opportunity to work on the project because she believed in its goal. Diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age, McGlaughn knew first-hand the struggles and frustrations many kids face. She hopes the book will encourage children that they too can tackle reading like Thunder.

In writing the book, Bradley tied in key concepts and tools she teaches her college students to help young children gain confidence in their reading abilities. 

"We are thrilled to give copies of ‘Thunder Learns to Read’ to children and teacher candidates,” said Bradley. “This book recognizes the complexity and significant challenge that learning to read can be. We want students who find reading tough to know how intelligent they are, and to know that teachers have tools that can help them grow stronger in their reading.”

Capping off the end of the school year, the special reading and the gift of a book to take home helped celebrate a job well done by both tutors and students alike. 

“It gave the young students the validation they need,” said Malone. “They also got to celebrate, so it just showed them we are really proud of them and that they did a really good job this year.”  

Erin Malone reads with the student she tutored.
Erin Malone reads with the student she tutored.